Invisible Jews on Television

While not made explicit, many characters on television had very Jewish traits.

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Other Characters

The Jewishness of many other TV characters is apparent only in passing. An occasional reference to a Yiddish phrase, a mention of Hanukkah or bagels may be the only marker of a character's Jewishness when it is not integral to character depiction, themes, or plots. For example, only a persistent viewer might realize that Richard Korinsky (Malcolm Gets), the lead character's beau in one Monday night NBC sitcom of the late 1990s, Caroline in the City, is Jewish.

His last name is a giveaway, but it is not frequently mentioned, and the actor himself, though portrayed as skittish and neurotic in opposition to Caroline's fresh-faced openness, physically plays against the Jewish type. A 1998 Christmas episode had the show's regulars visiting some sort of Santa-land donning seasonal costumes. Only the closing line of the episode, Caroline's wishing Richard "Happy Hanukkah," clued the viewer to his ethnicity.

Popular shows like Mad About You take a middle ground between identification and avoidance. Paul Buchman's Jewishness is rarely if ever mentioned, but Reiser's fairly heavy accent and mannerisms clearly indicate what his roots are. The show seldom focuses on Jewish themes, although guest appearances from Mel Brooks as Uncle Phil in several brilliant episodes--including one probing-Phil's immigrant background--underscore the family's Jewishness.

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Joyce Antler

Joyce Antler is the Samuel Lane Professor of American Jewish History and Culture at Brandeis University.